The All-Time All-Star Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are one of the signature franchises in the American League, known for hitting prowess and a loyal fan base over the years. The Tigers have won four World Series and ten American League pennants in its history, and is shooting for an eleventh this year. Many Hall of Famers have played for the team, as you will see here as I make my picks for the greatest players at each position in team history.
Catcher: Bill Freehan. Tough choice here between Freehan and Lance Parrish, but Freehan played in the 1960's, a very difficult era for hitters. Still, the 11-time A.L. All-Star deserves this nod. He hit 200 home runs as a Tiger, ninth in Tigers' history, and won 4 Gold Gloves. He also deserves the credit for the fine Tiger pitching staffs of the '60's, helping develop Mickey Lolich, Earl Wilson, and Denny McLain, among others. He was also very patient at the plate. I'll take Freehan as my all-time Tiger catcher.
Other notables: Lance Parrish.
First Base: Hank Greenberg. What a career he would have had had it not been for World War II and a wrist injury suffered in 1936! But he had a Hall of Fame career anyway, despite only playing 13 major league seasons.
Greenberg was a two-time American League Most Valuable Player, having the awards in 1934 and 1940, the first to do so at two different positions. He led the A.L. in home runs three times, with a career-high of 58 in 1938. He also led the A.L. three times in RBI, with a high of 183 in 1937, and had a .319 average for his 12 seasons as a Tiger.
He also helped his team by moving to left field for the 1940 season in order to get Rudy York's bat in the lineup at first base. Although he demanded a $10,000 salary increase to do so, it worked as the Tigers won the American League pennant that year, and Greenberg won his second American League MVP award.
Greenberg is currently third on the Tigers All-Time home run list, with 306, sixth in RBI with 1202, and fifth in career batting average at .319. Not bad for a guy who had a short career.
More than just numbers, he was a man of character who represented his Jewish fans well. During the 1934 season, he chose not to play on Rosh Hashanah until he consulted with his rabbi, who allowed him to do so. He was lauded by the columnist Edgar Guest, who wrote a poem in his honor. He also was one of the first players to join the armed forces in World War II, eventually becoming a captain in the Air Force during his 45-month hitch. He returned to the Tigers in the middle of the 1945 season, and let the team to win the 1945 World Series.
Even though it didn't happen until he was a Pittsburgh Pirate in 1947, my favorite Greenberg moment is of a collision he had with Jackie Robinson during a game against the Dodgers. Jackie was derided by players from all the other National League teams during this important season when he and Greenberg got tangled up. After it was over, Greenberg said, "I'm sorry. I should have asked if you were hurt." According to Jackie, Hank said, "Keep your chin up. You're doing well." Jackie said that Greenberg was a man of class, an example of what was right with the game. Greenberg was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.
Other notables: Norm Cash, Cecil Fielder, Rudy York.
Second Base: Charlie Gehringer. Nicknamed "The Mechanical Man" for the way he played the game, manager Mickey Cochrane said of him, "He says Hello on Opening Day, Goodbye on Closing Day, and in between hits .350." There's a lot of truth to that statement.
The soft-spoken Gehringer was a six-time American League All-Star who was the A.L. Most Valuable Player in 1937, when he hit a career-high .371 to win the batting title. He was an anchor for the great Tiger infields of the 1930's, and a doubles machine, hitting 574 of them to rank second in Tigers' history. He also had 2839 hits, ranking third on the Tigers' list, and was second all-time in runs scored with 1774. He hit .320 lifetime while playing his entire career in Detroit. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949.
Other notables: Lou Whitaker, Dick McAuliffe.
Shortstop: Alan Trammell. Oh, boy. I try not to get upset at the idiots who vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Trammell not being in there is one of the stupidest omissions in history.
Trammell and Lou Whitaker took over the middle infield duties of the team in 1978. They were still there in 1995. The two of them are the longest-running double play combination in the game's history. And they were both very good at it. Both of them are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, and if the voters are not going to vote in the roid boys, these two guys should be Hall of Famers.
Trammell was a six-time A.L. All-Star, and was, along with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Robin Yount, one of the new breed of power-hitting shortstops that challenged the image of the lithe, speedy shortstop that many assumed should play the position. Trammell could hit, and was a four-time A.L. Gold Glover, so he could play defense as well. He was also cheated out of the 1987 American League Most Valuable Player Award, that went to George Bell. Let me get this right, Bell hits 47 home runs for a team that blows the division title and wins the award over a guy who hits a career-high .343 and leads his team to the title that the Blue Jays choked away. Did the BBWAA have a clue that year? (Apparently not, since the National League voters stupidly gave their award to Andre Dawson and his meaningless 49 home runs for a last place team over Ozzie Smith. But I digress,...)
Trammell is sixth on the Tigers' career doubles list with 412, and sixth in runs scored with 1231. He's also fifth in games played with 2293, and maybe some day the Hall of Fame voters will get a clue and vote him in.
Other notables: Carlos Guillen, Donie Bush, Billy Rogell.
Third Base: George Kell. Third base had pretty much been a black hole for the Tigers until Kell came around in a trade with the Philadelphia A's early in the 1946 season. The Tigers got a 5-time American League All-Star and a batting champion, having won the title in 1949 with a .343 average.
Kell only played parts of seven seasons with the Tigers, so he didn't put up great career numbers with the team. But his .325 career average is third in team history, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
Other notables: Travis Fryman, Brandon Inge, Marv Owen.
Left Field: Willie Horton. One of most popular and beloved of Tiger players, Horton played his high school ball at Detroit's Northwestern High School, whom he led to the city championship in 1959. He joined the Tigers major league roster in 1963, and wound up one of the greatest power hitters in team history.
He was a four-time A.L. All-Star for the Tigers, and arguably had his best season for the 1968 World Champions, hitting 36 home runs, a career-high (remember, this was the year of the pitcher). His 262 home runs as a Tiger are fourth in team history.
As for what made him so popular, one thing is when he signed with the Tigers, he used his bonus to buy his parents a house. He was the youngest of 21 children in his family. That's not a misprint. His mother and father sired 21 kids. Willie never had much of anything as a kid, so when he got his bonus, instead of spending it on himself, he spent a lot of his on his family.
He also loved the city of Detroit so much that he took to the streets to stop rioting in the streets during 1967, clad in his Tiger uniform, pleading for peace. That helped cement his status among the Tiger faithful as one of their own.
Other notables: Bobby Veach, Matty McIntyre.
Center Field: Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Yes, he was a pscyho, an unapologetic racist (I'd like to see what he would do if he had some of the current Tigers like Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera as his teammates), an abuser of women, and a prima donna. Some people still insist, however, that he was the greatest player of all-time.
The legacy of Cobb starts when he came to the Tigers late in the 1905 season. Many blamed his rotten temper on the fact that his mother killed his father with a shotgun blast while Cobb was playing for the minor league Augusta Tourists in August of 1905. He reported to the Tigers three weeks later, and his new teammates didn't take too kindly to him, breaking his bats, and doing everything they could to get him off the team. It only took 22 seasons to get rid of him.
Cobb was stationed in center field in the 1906 season, but he and left fielder Matty McIntryre didn't get along, and after the two of them blamed each other for not catching fly balls because they couldn't stand each other, Cobb was moved to right field and veteran star Sam Crawford was moved from right field to center field. The combination would pay dividends, starting with the 1907 season, when the Tigers won the first of their three straight American League pennants. (Davy Jones was the team's left fielder in 1907 as McIntyre was injured, but Mcintyre was the starter for the 1908 and 1909 teams.) Cobb would eventually take over center field in 1910, when McIntrye was let go.
Cobb's slashing style of play infuriated opponents and teammates as well. He was driven by money and his own desire to be the best, to take no prisoners on the diamond, spiking several players over the years, berating teammates for not being as reckless as he was, and being all for himself, holding out for more money almost every season.
The numbers speak for themselves. 11 (or 12 depending on how you look at the 1910 A.L. batting title) American League batting titles, 4189 career hits (3900 of those with the Tigers), 869 steals with Detroit. He is the Tigers all-time leader in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, steals, and batting average. And death threats.
The ultimate tribute to his career was paid in 1936, when he received the highest vote total in the initial class of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The guy was great, and he knew it.
Other notables: Nobody even remotely in this class.
Right Field: Sam Crawford. Yeah, Al Kaline played forever, and Harry Heilmann was one heckuva hitter, but Crawford could do it all. He was a star in Cincinnati before coming to Detroit in 1903, and is still holds the baseball record with 312 career triples, one of the more unbreakable records in baseball history.
Crawford didn't care much for Ty Cobb, which made him human, but he didn't let it get in the way of his performance. Sam was a great defensive outfielder who played center until 1910, when the club got rid of Matty McIntrye, allowing Crawford to move back to his normal position. He had a great throwing arm, and was one of the best all-around players of his time. He was eventually recoginzed as such when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1957.
He is second in Tigers' history in triples with 249, third in steals with 318, and is fifth in RBI with 1264. Yeah, I know those numbers don't compare to Kaline's, but Crawford played in the dead ball era. And the question for me to answer is, who would I want in right field on an all-time Tigers team? Wahoo, that's who.
Other notables: Hall of Famers Al Kaline and Harry Heilmann.
Designated Hitter: Dmitri Young. Had Rusty Staub lasted five seasons, I would've put him here, but I have a five-year minimum for each of the older franchises. So it leaves me with Young, who played five seasons with the Tigers, and had some good seasons, the best of which was 2003, when he hit 29 home runs and made the American League All-Star team. He hit .279 for his career in Detroit, and there ain't anybody else.
Other notables: Willie Horton.
#1 Starting Pitcher: Hal Newhouser. He gets a bad rap because he had his best years during the 1944 and 1945 seasons, when most of the best players in baseball were busy serving their country in World War II. But he was pretty good after the war, too, leading the A.L. in victories in 1946 and 1948. He was a six-time American League All-Star, and was a two-time A.L. Most Valuable Player, winning the award in both 1944 and 1945.
He won 200 games for the Tigers, fourth on the all-time list, fifth in innings pitched with 2,944, tied for third in shutouts with 33, and third in strikeouts with 1,770. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
#2 Starter: Jack Morris. I don't know if he's a true Hall of Famer or not, but's he got an argument. He was the stopper for the Tigers during the decade of the 1980's, winning 198 games for Detroit, fifth on their career list. He also gave up gopher balls, a total of 321 of them, second in team history, but he was a rock for those Tigers teams over the years. throwing over 200 innings in a season nine times as a Tiger. He also represented the team as an All-Star four times. When I think of the Tigers over all of my time watching the team, I think of Jack Morris on the mound.
#3 Starter: Justin Verlander. The guy will eventually be the greatest pitcher the team has ever had. He's already eighth in team history in strikeouts with 1,297, has thrown two no-hitters, has led the A.L. in wins and strikeouts twice, and he's only 29 years old! Winning the 2011 A.L. Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards has cemented his status among the game's elite. And barring an injury, he's gonna be one of the all-time greats in baseball history. He's fun to watch.
#4 Starter: Mickey Lolich. I'm going against the dead ball guys and picking the fat man who used to ride his motorcycle to Tiger Stadium most days.
Overshadowed by Denny McLain during the early part of his career, he emerged as a star by winning three games in the 1968 World Series as the Tigers came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship. He was just getting started, though, as he had four straight seasons of throwing 300 or more innings, starting in 1971, when he led the A.L. with 25 wins, 308 strikeouts, and pitched an insane 376 innings.
Lolich is the Tigers' all-time leader in strikeouts with 2,679 (until Verlander gets there), third in innings with 3,361,2, first in shutouts with 39, and third in wins with 207. Oh, yeah, he also gave up 329 gopher balls, first on the Tigers' list. But he was one of the most durable starters in Tiger history.
Other notables: George Mullin, Tommy Bridges, Wild Bill Donovan, Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, and Hooks Dauss, whoever the hell he is.
Relief Ace: John Hiller. I'm going old-school here, and picking Hiller, who was the first real Tiger relief ace, and the only pitcher I know who got better after having a heart attack.
Hiller was just another member of the Tigers' pitching staff when suffered a heart attack in January of 1971. He missed the entire season, but came back to help the Tigers win the 1972 American League East Division crown. And in 1973, he had a career year with 38 saves and a 1.44 ERA in 125 innings, phenomenal numbers for the time.
Because he was used differently from relievers today, he compiled wins and saves, going 17-14 with 13 saves for a poor Detroit team in 1974. Hiller is third in Tiger history with 125 saves, and is the leader in games pitched, with 545.
Other notables: Todd Jones, Mike Henneman, Willie Hernandez, Aurelio Lopez.
Manager: Sparky Anderson. Most people thought he was done when the Cincinnati Reds fired him after the 1978 season. He wasn't by a long shot. Although some would rate his career in Detroit as disappionting, he didn't have as much in Detroit as he did in Cincinnati.
He took over the Tigers during the 1979 season, and he brought some stability to the Tiger organization. There was a sense of seriousness about the team, a commitment to winning that hadn't been there before. And the Tigers became contenders under Sparky's reign.
And in 1984, it all came together, as the Tigers exploded to a 35-5 start to the season en route to a 104-win season, and a World Series victory over the San Diego Padres. As good a job as Sparky did in that season, his best one was yet to come.
In 1987, he brought a team that no business in the pennant race to an American League East division title. Of course, the Blue Jays' tank job was partly responsible, but Sparky's cut and paste lineups did the trick. Finally, Sparky was recognized as one of the best managers of all-time, which was borne out when he elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Other notables: Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings and Mickey Cochrane, Jim Leyland, Mayo Smith, and Del Baker.
Those are my choice. What are yours?